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Illustration for article titled Oh, Yup, You Need To Wash Your Grocery Totes
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SqualorJolie Kerr is a cleaning expert and advice columnist. She’ll be here every week helping to answer your filthiest questions. Are you dirty? Email her.

Hi hello would you like something else to worry about on top of [broadly gestures]? Hmm yes, well your reusable grocery bag is trying to kill you, how about that for a new thing to worry about?

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So, even before [broadly gestures], grocery totes were a thing that needed to be cleaned regularly because they harbor bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Salmonella, e coli, all the good stuff. And now, obviously, we’re dealing with a whole viral thing and right, wash your grocery totes! Here’s how.

Good News: Most Grocery Totes Are Machine Washable

Nylon, polyester, and lightweight cotton totes can be machine washed in cold water. They can also be machine dried, but use low heat to avoid shrinking cotton or, better yet, air dry cotton bags. Polyester and nylon bags will also air dry very quickly—it’s not a problem to put them in the dryer but it’s also not necessary.

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Speaking of drying! Because nylon and polyester bags dry so quickly, and because they’re extremely easy to wash by hand, which I’ll get to in a sec, they’re what I recommend you use for toting groceries.

More Good News: Hand Washing Totes Is Quick & Easy

You don’t need to rely on a washing machine to clean grocery totes, however! You can, after unpacking and putting away your food, simply plug your kitchen sink, fill it with enough cool or lukewarm water to submerge your tote or totes, add a small squirt of dish soap (a little goes a long way), and use your hands to agitate the bags in the sudsy water. Let them soak for 10 minutes, drain the water and rinse the bags well with clean water. Then, squeeze out excess water and let the bags air dry.

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Stains? No Prob, Here’s How to Treat Food & Dirt Stains

If your grocery tote has gotten stained, either from food leaking, spilling, or getting smooshed (technical term) in it or if it’s just gotten grimy, you should use a laundry pre-treatment spray before washing.

Dirt is a protein stain, so choose an enzymatic pretreatment spray like Zout or Krud Kutter Sports Stain Remover.

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For food spills and so one, Shout is the best all-around stain remover I’ve found for most food stains.

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But? What Do I Do About Bags That Can’t Be Machine Washed?

Some grocery totes cannot be machine washedeither because of the material (woven, plastic-y), because they have cardboard bottoms to add structure or because they’re insulated for keeping food cool while being transportedbut they should still be regularly cleaned. Doing so is very easy! Either use an antibacterial wipe or all-purpose spray and a paper towel to thoroughly wipe the interior and exterior, paying special attention to the handles.

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Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and the host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person

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